At this point, Beatles documentaries are like Beatles tribute bands: there are so many of them out there, all drawing from the same finite amount of material, that you almost have to wonder why someone would bother making another one. Aside from the fact that people never seem to get tired of either.
Once the decision has been made to create a tribute band and/or documentary, a crucial question must be answered: do we play this straight, serving up some nostalgic old favorites? Or do we do something different, like a Metallica/Beatles fusion band or a documentary that's just about the time Ringo got attacked by an escaped octopus and wrote a song about it?
John Lennon: Love is All You Need goes the traditional route. This tribute act doesn't give us anything really new, (nearly all the footage, including interviews, is decades old) and consists mostly of recreations of John's greatest solo moments, with occasional cameos by those other three guys he hung out with for a while in the 60's. You know, the ones with the hair.
This isn't a film for Beatles newbies. There's very little here to tell us what made The Beatles (as opposed to Lennon) so huge. When it does focus on the band, it does so via clumsily-inserted old news footage that goes on for five to ten minutes at a stretch and adds very little to the film.
Luckily, the film improves tremendously once it stops this and begins introducing us to the people who arguably knew Lennon best: his first wife, Cynthia Lennon, and his second, Yoko Ono. Love'sgreatest strength is how it uses the accounts of these two women to paint a portrait of the man they loved.
Cynthia speaks of her time with John with remarkable tranquility. She acknowledges how painful it was to pretend she and John weren't married for the sake of the band's publicity, and speaks of how deeply their divorce hurt her son. Yet she seems to bear John no ill will, and remembers their time together as a wonderful time in her life. She seems far less willing to forgive Yoko Ono, but refuses to go into much detail, though she does explicitly blame the band's breakup on her.
Yoko makes no apologies during her interview segments, and the film gives us a snapshot of their courtship in John's own words. When speaking of his early days with Yoko, John sounds happier than in any other point in the film, almost childishly giddy at points. Regardless of how one feels about Yoko, the film leaves little doubt that John truly loved her.
In fact, Love's greatest contribution to Beatles lore may be in its subtle defense of Yoko Ono, one of the most vilified figures in music history. Through its interviews with Yoko and Cynthia, a portrait of the full Lennon begins to emerge. But in exploring its subject, the film reveals even more about the two women John loved. This is why, ultimately, Love is All You Need feels like a lost opportunity, with its decision to be the umpteenth film to focus on Lennon instead of turning its lens specifically on Cynthia and Yoko.
As tribute bands go, a Cynthia Lennon/Yoko Ono duo is one I haven't seen before. Seems like that would be a pretty fresh act.